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Opinion The MAGA cult should face facts: America will never be theirs ‘again’

A gay pride rainbow flag flies along with the U.S. flag in front of the Asbury United Methodist Church in Prairie Village, Kan., on April 19, 2019. (Charlie Riedel/AP)

Right-wing media commentators and MAGA politicians have one thing right: The cultural tide of pluralism, secularism and feminism has washed away their imagined reactionary paradise of a White Christian America. Unfortunately, they fail to realize this trend is irreversible.

Nowhere has this been more evident than the split within the GOP over the Respect for Marriage Act. Twelve Senate Republicans on Tuesday voted for the bill, which will codify protections for same-sex marriage, but more than 36 — or three-quarters of the Republican caucus — did not. They did so even though 70 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage.

The GOP’s reactionary stance on this issue — as on abortion and virtually anything that smacks of racial justice — reflects the party’s dependence on White Christian nationalism. Put differently, the party cannot seem to embrace inclusion, tolerance or simple decency for fear of losing a significant bloc of its electorate. As a result, Republicans have put their party at odds with the values of the overwhelming majority of the country.

The GOP’s positions on these cultural issues are rooted in the conviction that only “real Americans” — their White Christian nationalist supporters — should maintain the levers of economic and political power. But the ground is shifting under the MAGA cult’s feet.

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Even some hard-right Republicans are realizing this. Sen. Cynthia M. Lummis (R-Wyo.) on Tuesday explained her vote in favor of the Respect for Marriage Act, despite her religious conviction that marriage is between a man and a woman: “The concern that people have expressed to me is that my views run counter to God’s definition of marriage,” she said. “And I’ve tried to distinguish the fact that I support God’s definition of marriage, but now there’s a second definition of marriage — it is secular and established by the [Supreme Court] Obergefell decision — and it deserves respect, too.”

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For many Republicans, those are fighting words. If one is going to start differentiating between one’s religious convictions and the dictates of a pluralistic, inclusive society, then what’s the rationalization for embedding in law a Christian view that personhood begins at conception? What’s the justification for allowing businesses to impose their religious convictions on others (e.g., denying birth control coverage to their employees, refusing service to same-sex couples)?

Alas, Lummis is in the distinct minority in the GOP. The party’s fixation with a pre-civil rights society leads it into one political debacle after another. Too many Republicans cannot repudiate virulent racist, sexist or antisemitic rhetoric. Too many channel their supporters’ conviction that they are the victims and under siege from alien values, and back legislation ranging from Florida’s “Don’t say gay” law to abortion bans. None of this makes the GOP popular with average voters, especially millennials and Generation Z voters who will soon dominate the electorate.

As Robert P. Jones, head of the Public Religion Research Institute, wrote at the time the Supreme Court issued its ruling overturning abortion rights, the decision "is part of a gambit — seen in attacks on LGBTQ rights, immigrants, the separation of church and state, and critical race theory — to hold onto a particular conservative vision of white Christian America and impose it upon a more religiously and racially diverse nation that is increasingly supportive of this set of rights grounded in a constitutional right to privacy.” He added, “The connective tissue between these issues can be seen both in how out of touch this opinion is with mainstream public opinion and in how opposition to abortion connects with other issues being pushed by conservative religious activists this year.”

Thousands of words have been devoted to pointing out the danger the GOP presents to itself with its debilitating dependence on former president Donald Trump. But its far bigger problem, which won’t disappear even if Trump is indicted and convicted, is that not even a solid conservative such as Lummis can persuade her party to turn away from its rigid, anachronistic outlook that turns off a majority of Americans.

So long as that ideology remains a fixture in the GOP, Republicans will find it difficult to construct a governing coalition. That is disastrous news for the GOP, but it should be reassuring for a country devoted to becoming a more perfect nation.